For those of you I don’t run into regularly, online or in person, I have news: after nearly 16 years in Colorado, and nearly 30 years away from California, I’m returning to my home state. It will still be a new home for me, because this time I won’t be living in Los Angeles but in the oceanside community of Ventura. I’ll tell you more about that when I’ve stopped packing and unpacking, selling my house and buying a new one…but that’s not what I wanted to talk about now. I just wanted you to understand why I’ve written the following farewell tribute to Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an organization I have treasured during my time in Denver, and one of the big reasons I almost decided not to leave:
You don’t have to travel far to discover other worlds within our world. I met former librarian Karen Levi-Lausa when she coordinated my book party at Denver’s Bookbar, and we got to talking about her program that brings books to prisoners, Words Beyond Bars. Karen invited me to read a couple of the books the prisoners are reading with her, and last week I joined her for a drive to Colorado’s Sterling Correctional Facility for their book discussion. This week, she posted my essay on that visit at her Words Beyond Bars blog: Literature in a Razor -Wired Country. Please take a quick look and help me spread the word about this invaluable program!
A friend of mine has me thinking about the fine lines between exceptional and exclusive, community and clique, special and elitist. She spoke to me recently about a couple of groups she’s familiar with. She saw one as warm and welcoming, the other as striving to be inclusive and supportive but sometimes coming across as exclusive and competitive. I wondered what caused the unintended sensation that some participants were not only more accomplished than others, but also more worthy of attention.
Throughout much of my life, belonging has not come easily to me. I’ve gone through phases of thinking it was because I was weird, or precocious, or an only child, because I came from a divorced family, or lived with my grandmother, or was working class in a middle class neighborhood, because I was mixed race in a white neighborhood, or mixed race in a Mexican neighborhood, or simply because I talked too much and too loudly.
If I’d taken the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I would have had to share it with some 500 people a day. I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique. A Community Inca Trek gave me the opportunity to venture out in a smaller group and stay in remote villages along the way.
I prefer something off the beaten track, where I can feel more attuned with nature and experience something unique.
In between long hikes, clear blue skies, archaeological beauty, and sun-blushed views of the snow-capped Peruvian Andes, I camped with locals and gained an understanding of what it’s like to live there. I also had a chance to volunteer in the villages. Many tourists don’t realize their impacts on the local environment, so it’s good to be able to give something back.
On Monday, a Denver Post columnist wrote an article about this spring’s first-ever prom at Florence Crittenton High School for teen mothers, and the article elicited negative comments that so upset me that at first I was at a loss for words. I’ve been working on a project involving the school’s first-ever leadership class, and that class has turned the prom into a hands-on leadership project. Those who complain about the prom say it’s a reward for bad behavior. What they may not know is that this prom is also a practical training program in goal-setting, planning, and execution. It’s teaching this class the very accountability the naysayers complain they don’t have.
Perhaps you’ve heard there are only two stories: 1) someone goes on a journey, or 2) a stranger comes to town. So, there’s really only one story, because “a stranger comes to town” is the flip side of “someone goes on a journey.” As a traveler and writer, I appreciate both. When I can’t go on a journey, I love the journey to come to me.
Denver’s Lighthouse LitFest is a two-week exploration of the craft, business, and camaraderie of the writer’s life.
That’s what it is to have Denver’s Lighthouse LitFest “come to town” each year, a two-week exploration of the craft, business, and camaraderie of the writer’s life. That’s what it was to have my friend Elizabeth drive from San Diego to Denver to join me for this June’s LitFest. She’d given me a party and a place to stay during my recent book tour, and I was eager to return the favor, and to share this amazing event with another writer.
For non-professional dancers, dancing is typically an occasional social activity, but for me it is the axis on which my whole social life turns. When I’m simply listening to music, I prefer alternative and acoustic rock, but when I dance, it’s all about swing and blues. Last weekend, I danced into another era, at a Denver event called Lindy Diversion. Swing dancers took classes all day, and danced to a live band or DJ all night — until 4:00 a.m. if they could stay awake. For those of us who dance the Lindy hop, obsession “don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”
When I dance, it’s all about swing and blues.
I grew up with my grandmother, and she and I used to enjoy watching old movies together, especially the musicals of the 30s, 40s, and 50s: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly and anybody. Whenever the music was swing, I wanted to jump up and jitterbug, though I had no idea how. I cut my teeth on big band music by the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Glen Miller. My tastes later expanded to the bad-ass swing, jump-blues, and rhythm-and-blues of artists like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Ray Charles. My grandmother used to sing the songs of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday while doing housework. So, for me, the music of that era hits the same emotional note as the smell of Grand-mom’s homemade apple pie. It’s the soundtrack of my childhood, though it was recorded before my time.
Last week, I shared with you the first half of my two-part short film: Homes Within, Communities Without, sponsored by PlatteForum and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. If you haven’t seen part one, I hope you’ll give it a look, because I believe that somewhere between these two digital stories a third, unspoken story lies. In Audrey Haynes’ story, she shared how living on the streets has changed her ideas about community. For Audrey, community goes wherever she goes. For me, community begins at home. But it wasn’t always that way, and my story doesn’t end there.
You’ll find my video below. After you watch, I hope you’ll share your thoughts. What is the connection between home and community? What separates us all, and what connects us? What is community to you?
In the economic meltdown, the specter of homelessness looms over many people who once felt secure. So, when PlatteForum and Lighthouse Writers Workshop gave me the opportunity to create a short film exhibit on the theme of community, I wanted to relate that topic to homelessness. We often hear that Americans have lost their sense of community. I wondered, “Have I?” We often hear that homeless people have “fallen through the cracks.” I wondered, “How do they hold onto community?” Homes Within, Communities Without is a pair of digital stories in which a young homeless woman and I each explore our experience of community. Audrey Haynes lives just two miles from me, yet worlds apart. Still, we share one important desire: to connect.
You’ll find Audrey’s brief video below. Next week, I’ll share mine. I hope you’ll watch both, and that they’ll prompt you to share your own thoughts. What connects you to community?
This month, every morning when I wake to the pounding, clattering, and growling of machinery and men building the new house two doors down, I’ll stare at my spinning ceiling fan and ask myself, “What is my community?” July 1st, was the first day of my writing residency for the Biennial of the Americas, with PlatteForum and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. My project is called “Homes Within, Communities Without.” I’m creating two digital video stories: one in which I explore how I experience community, and another in which a young, recently homeless woman explores how she experiences community.